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Pro-life progression

John Cavanaugh-O'Keefe (Handout)


Pro-life progression

Q&As with pro-life leaders: The politically diverse pro-life movement in the 1970s, and the racially and ethnically diverse movement now

John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe co-founded in 1977 the Pro-Life Nonviolent Action Project and was arrested more than 20 times at sit-ins. In recent years he’s concentrated on supporting immigrants and opposing racism. My questions and Cavanaugh-O’Keefe’s answers follow.

Did the pro-life movement make a mistake by concentrating on reversing Roe v. WadeGreat idea, but that’s not the end game. Reverse it, the question goes back to the states, and while many states ban abortion within their state promptly, 15 states or so will expand abortion. Any woman who wants an abortion will still be able to get one. She’ll just have to travel more.

So the Supreme Court is not our savior? In the entire recorded history of the world, it has never ever happened that a nation ended a massive, deeply entrenched evil by changing the law. That just doesn’t happen. You can vote in Hitler, you can vote in evil, but you can’t vote it out. To get it out, you have to do something other than vote, and history offers only two ways to change a massively entrenched evil in society: war and martyrdom. We need to study other campaigns of nonviolence and build on them. The pro-life movement started doing that but then got badly sidetracked. Now we’re back to this effort of changing the law without changing society first.

I’m troubled by the divisiveness in the nation that the pro-life movement is now a part of, because if you give up on the Democratic Party, you have given up on ending abortion in America.

How can we end abortion in the United States? You need to reach out to people from all backgrounds and build a national consensus. If you work with one party, you cannot change a nation. I’m troubled by the divisiveness in the nation that the pro-life movement is now a part of, because if you give up on the Democratic Party, you have given up on ending abortion in America.

What common ground can there be with the Democratic Party? The movement that calls itself pro-choice always has been and still is a coalition of two different groups: pro-choice feminists and population control eugenicists. The abortion movement came out of the eugenics movement, which is not a thing of the past: The eugenics movement has worked hard to drive down global population, particularly of people of color. Democrats are still aware of that and concerned about it. Nancy Pelosi opposes coercive abortion and led the fight against coercive abortion years and years ago in the 1980s. Obviously, Pelosi is not someone we want to work with to end abortion in America, but if we push back against coercive abortion globally, it’s still possible to find common ground.


Joanne West

Pat Goltz (Joanne West)

Pat Goltz co-founded Feminists for Life in 1972.

Any indications of feminist leanings during your childhood? I resented the fact that my parents tried to keep me from doing certain things because I was female. My mother forbade me from taking chemistry and told me I had to take home economics or study hall. Whenever I did something I thought they might forbid me to do, I didn’t tell them I was doing it. In high school, my future husband made me a code oscillator so I could practice Morse code and get an amateur radio license. He liked to build electronics from old parts, and we’d put equipment together whenever we weren’t at the movies for a date. I hid the oscillator from my parents and only used it when they weren’t around. Basically I became a feminist because people discriminated against me for being interested in science.

When and how did you first become pro-life? My parents were pro-life, and I was always pro-life. When I was in high school, I learned what abortion was and was horrified. I am aware that we are made in the image of God and God alone has the right to decide when a person lives or dies. Science tells us that an unborn child is a human being and that life begins at the moment of fertilization. I was 28 and had been married for almost eight years before the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision. I remember my reaction: I had to stop listening to music for over a year. I was a student of piano for years, but after Roe, every time I heard music, I started to cry because I would think about all the babies who would never get to hear music.

How did Feminists for Life begin? I joined the Columbus, Ohio, chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1970. I made myself useful: drove to Dayton to pick up an order because everyone else was at work, did child care for a conference rather than attending myself. I also made them uncomfortable by taking my youngest child to meetings and breastfeeding there. I hoped to get them to turn against abortion, and I did persuade them to let a pro-life speaker come once, but it didn’t make any difference. That was when I realized we wouldn’t be able to reform the feminist movement from within: We needed a new organization.

When did you start it? I started Feminists for Life with Cathy Callaghan in 1972. She and I met in a judo club: She had a brown belt at the time and a Ph.D. in linguistics and was writing a dictionary for the Lake Miwok Indians of California. We became friends, and she joined NOW because of me. She thought because she could get a Ph.D. that the feminist movement wasn’t necessary. But I told her that not everyone had the opportunities she had—that many women were held back because of their gender. She realized I was right. She was also pro-life and did not like the fact that feminists were supporting abortion. We kept it simple. We felt that taking up other issues would be divisive—partly because about the only things we agreed on were pro-life feminism and judo. She was a political liberal, and I’m not.

How did other pro-lifers react? Not long after forming the group, Cathy and I attended an Ohio Right to Life board meeting. The attendees thought we were spies at first, until they talked with us. After that, they decided to help us start our group. They gave us names of people who were feminist or leaning in that direction. That was how we got our first members. We attended the monthly meetings for a while and always gave a report on what we had been doing with Feminists for Life.

How did the Columbus chapter of the National Organization for Women react in 1974? The so-called “feminist” movement wanted nothing to do with us. The Columbus board invited me to speak in my defense at a board meeting. I declined, but when the leadership brought it before the general membership, I used my 15 minutes to talk about why abortion was bad for women. After a long discussion, the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of expulsion: The chapter had over 100 members, and only three voted to keep me. National NOW declined to expel me. I got a letter from a chapter in Washington state decrying the action of the Columbus chapter.

You were president of Feminists for Life for five years before you retired. Then what did you do? I had two biological children and two adopted children by the time I retired from leadership. My husband and I had three more children after that. At first I was too busy homeschooling and taking care of other family matters. But once I got on the internet, I found various ways to contribute through online groups. I talked to more than 1,000 women online and may have saved a few lives. You never know.



Savannah Lopez (Handout)

The pro-life movement has become racially and ethnically diverse.

 Our Dec. 26 issue had a Q&A with Care Net head Roland Warren. Here’s an interview with Savannah Lopez, client services manager at Pregnancy & Fatherhood Solutions in El Paso, Texas. 

What was your exposure to the issue of abortion growing up? I grew up in El Paso’s Hispanic community. It’s primarily Roman Catholic and very pro-life. I grew up knowing I was pro-life without ever seeing the compassion for the women who do choose abortion.

What percentage of your clients at the pregnancy center are Hispanic—and what differences do you notice between the first-generation immigrants and those with families who have been around longer? Probably 75 percent. Most of our clients are U.S. citizens, probably second-generation families. We have had clients who say they just came to the country. Most of those are usually further along in their pregnancies, and they’re just looking for help with getting connected to medical care or continuing the pregnancy. They’re usually not planning to abort. Most are single and don’t have other children. They live with their parents and are fully dependent on them.

Tell me about one of your Hispanic clients whose situation reflects what many of your clients go through. I had a client recently who was considering abortion. She was unmarried, in college, between 18 and 20, and in shock and denial when she first came in—which is also common among the young women we see. She hadn’t told her family, but one parent was more on the pro-life side, and she believed the other parent would be a lot more understanding if she did go through with an abortion because she was so young.

What happened? After going through our coronavirus screening process, she gave a urine sample for the pregnancy test. The test came back positive, and we went over all her options with her. This client in particular needed to vent about her denial and her frustration with the timing of the pregnancy. We went over the facts about abortion. She agreed to come back for an ultrasound with her partner. She didn’t come out and say she chose life, but she said she had a lot more to think about. We last saw her a couple of weeks ago. 

How often are you able to talk your abortion-minded clients out of abortions? We don’t talk them out of it. We can’t do that. But we do present the facts. A lot of men and women have no knowledge of what an abortion entails, thinking it’s just a Band-Aid–type fix. Many aren’t really well-educated on how a fetus develops in the womb. Ultrasounds help give them a visual on the pregnancy, and other information helps their decision-making process.

What are typical results? A good percentage of women who come in considering abortion walk out of here either wanting to come back for an ultrasound later to make a final decision or leaving here ultimately choosing life for their baby. About 80 percent of our clients who receive an ultrasound and go through options counseling choose life.